Tag Archives: Edison

The Worst Thing to Happen to an Inventor

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison

When Thomas Edison was asked about his failures while trying to develop a practical light bulb, his reply was, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”*

Inventors are driven to ask why; to find out what comes next. So are they happy when they get everything just right?

For inventors, the thrill of the hunt is the chase, not the kill. When all the challenges are met, all the goals achieved, it’s time to either take it apart and try something different, or else immediately find a totally different challenge.

Our minds tell us, “I’ve successfully found out how to do this; now in order to learn I need to try something new.”

* The World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press…” (via Google)http://darwin.nap.edu/books/NX006728/html/35.html

How Do I See the End of 2013?

It is with some degree of sadness that I mark the passing of the incandescent light bulb.

Actually it is for one reason in particular – you could understand, and therefore teach others how a light bulb work. If you run electricity through a high resistance wire, the electric energy becomes heat and light.

You could tell your kids how Thomas Alva Edison knew he needed the resistance, and a vacuum would keep the filament from burning out immediately. How, as he tried different materials for the filament, he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” How Edison then went on to invent many things – how to record sound, motion pictures, medical fluoroscopy and how these inventions spawned whole industries.

How it was this date in 1879 when Edison first demonstrated the light bulb to the public and that one of those basic light bulbs has been glowing almost continuously for 112 years.

How when you add a second electrode to an incandescent light bulb and you have a diode rectifier; add a third, making a triode that can amplify an electric signal – an important step leading to the proliferation of radio and eventually television.

What a great teaching tool!


Can you clearly explain how an energy efficient compact fluorescent bulb works? How about an LEDs (light emitting diode)?

Didn’t think so – me either.

Happy New Year!

We finally made it! It’s now officially 2013!

Smokey isn't impressed with the New Year hype.

Smokey isn’t impressed with the New Year hype.

Personally, I’m off to a great start. The cold that had me sidelined for the past week seems to have given up in the face of the New Year and is about 80% gone. In my little corner of the world, that’s a fine start.

Feeling better, I got a few things done with my computers and radios. Some of my efforts didn’t work, but at least that means I’m that much closer to getting things set. I now know one more thing that doesn’t work. (Note to self – make note to self about efforts that didn’t work so I don’t repeat them.) Edison claimed he didn’t fail a thousand times, he merely discovered a thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb. If it’s good enough for Tom Edison, it’s good enough for me.

As you might have gathered, I’m not a big one for New Year’s Resolutions. I find there’s always something to try to do better pretty much every day. Here’s my focus for today – It seems like it has been grey, dreary and rainy forever, but a big part of that perception was because I was fighting this cold and didn’t pay attention to the sunny days interspersed with the grey ones. It’s easy to pick and choose things that fit into our mood or state of mind and ignore those that don’t. I’m going to try to notice the good things, like a sunny day, even if I can’t personally enjoy them. So on that note,

Happy New Year, everybody.

Now That Columbus Day Is Over

Once upon a time, Columbus Day was a national holiday and school children would celebrate the discovery of America. Of course they also celebrated Christmas instead of Winter Break and Easter instead of Spring Break.

That Scoundrel, Columbus!

But more important than the discovery of America is the discovery of the following important facts:

  • That Columbus didn’t really discover America. It had already been discovered by Leif Ericson or Leif the Red or a bunch of Asians who walked across the ice from Russia to Alaska.
  • That Columbus never actually made it to America, but only to several of the islands in the Caribbean, so he only discovered islands, not a continent.
  • That Columbus never discovered anything, but instead thought he was in India, which was why the indigenous people were referred to as Indians.
  • America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, a mapmaker who supposedly put his name in that big blank spot west of the Atlantic – proof that Columbus’ role was unimportant.
  • Columbus paved the way for evil Europeans to bring warfare and disease to the Native Americans (we dare not call them Indians, although without Vespucci we couldn’t call them Native Americans.)

And while we’re at it…

  • Edison didn’t invent the electric light bulb.
  • Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile.
  • Marconi didn’t invent the wireless (radio).

And we wonder why the world is in the shape it’s in.

So, I ask you to consider the following:

  • If Columbus hadn’t sailed west, you and I would probably be some peasant stock in Europe or Asia under some type of monarchy. If America hadn’t broken the mold, there’s no reason to believe that those born into royalty would have given up their power and prestige. Even after sending the royalty to the guillotine, the French managed to eke out an emperor or two. The Tsar ruled Russia until the Bolshevik revolution, the Shah didn’t let go until Jimmy Carter was president. Then there’s King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Elizabeth in Great Britain and of course Brad and Angelina of California.
  • The value of an invention is not necessarily thinking of the idea first or even being the first to make it work. The value is in making its benefit available to others.
  • It was because of Edison, that electric lights became the norm (even though it was Westinghouse’s power distribution system that made it work.)
  • Ford invented a way to make cars inexpensive enough for people to be able to afford. He even paid his workers a seemingly “obscene” wage so that Ford employees would have enough money to purchase Ford Automobiles.
  • Marconi Wireless created the interest and expectation that communications could occur instantly from virtually anywhere to virtually anywhere including to and from ships at sea.

So to those who are down on the explorers and inventors, take comfort in the words of that great American philosopher, George Carlin, who said, “Remember, inside every silver lining – there’s a dark cloud!”